- Moominvalley Fossils: Translating the Early Comics of Tove Jansson
Until their republication in 2006, Tove Jansson’s (1914–2001) Moomin comic strips remained relatively unexplored, compared to the well-known Moomin book series. Targeted at an adult audience, these strips—in which the innocence of the hippo-like Moomins often fell into conflict with the mechanisms of modern society—were published in English in The Evening News in the UK from 1954 to 1968 and fell out of view until Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly started reprinting them in hardback form. But Jansson’s work with the cartoon form long predates this, with her first published cartoons appearing in 1929 while she was still in her early teens. And yet, although there is a vast body of scholarly work on Tove Jansson’s writing, art, and life, little of it covers her pre-Moomin cartoons.
Boel Westin’s Tove Jansson: ord, bild, liv (2007) is perhaps the most comprehensive study of Jansson’s life and accurately lays out the timeline of the early cartoons. Tulla Karjalainen’s Tove Jansson: Tee työtä ja rakasta (2013) illustrates several of the covers of Jansson’s early comics, but reveals little of the content. “Roses, Beads and Bones: Gender, Borders and Slippage in Tove Jansson’s Moomin Comic-Strips” by K. A. Laity insightfully explores the innovative devices that Jansson later pioneered, using the graphic elements from the strips to divide the panels. Comics curator Paul Gravett noted that this started in the first strip and was a first in newspaper cartoons (Yule). Juhani Tolvanen’s Muumisisarukset (2000) explores Jansson’s comic work in detail and includes reprints of many of her early cartoons.
However, very few of the analyses of Jansson’s childhood cartoons are available in English, and there are no published translations of these early works. As a result, there is limited visibility of [End Page 46] Jansson’s stylistic development, which saw her writing and drawing skills rapidly evolve whilst still in her early teens. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview and an insight into these early works via my own translations, exploring how they paved the way for Jansson’s later work. Additionally, this is supplemented with my provision of an online resource for researchers who are interested in pursuing this material (Moomin History).
Tove Jansson often told of the rich artistic environment in which she grew up. “When I was a child, I drew all the time,” Jansson told interviewer Pentti Nuortimo. “I think it all started when… you know, you put the child on the potty and, oh, here it comes. To keep me calm, they put a stool in front of me and I drew and drew and drew” (qtd. in Tolvanen 11). Her father, Viktor Jansson, was a renowned sculptor whose statues and fountains are still seen in Helsinki and Tampere, Finland. Her mother, Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, was a graphic designer and illustrator who designed most of Finland’s postage stamps from 1929 until 1962. Indeed, it was through emulating her mother’s work that Tove Jansson first learned to draw, developing in particular the cross-hatching style that would dominate her work (Yule).
The comic influence also came at an early age, but Jansson’s choice of reading material was limited. As one of the six percent of Swedish-speaking Finns, she was exposed primarily to Swedish magazines and newspapers. A major influence was Petter Lindroth’s Jocke, Nicke och Majken, which ran in Sweden’s most popular weekly youth magazine, Allt för Alla [Something for Everyone] (1912–1932). A very different strip was equally influential: Oskar Andersson’s Mannen som gör vad som faller honom [The Man Who Does Whatever He Wants]. Sometimes called Den Elake Herren [The Evil Gentleman] (1902–1906), this obscure, anarchic strip featured “a strange and sarcastic little guy who did whatever came into his mind. And what was going through his mind was very weird” (Tolvanen 12).
The love of these strips and the avidly-read comics from back issues of Aller’s Journal kept by her grandmother meant that it was only a matter of time before...